XFiles Friday: Communal delusion

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 12.)

According to what Geisler and Turek would have us believe, there are only 4 possibilities if the Resurrection is not true:

  1. It’s a legend (like Zeus and Thor and so on).
  2. It’s a deliberate lie.
  3. It’s an embellishment (meaning an obviously and ludicrously extravagant embellishment).
  4. It’s a mistake.

In each case, the possibilities are tightly constrained so as to make it harder for the Gospel accounts to match them. When Geisler and Turek refer to legends, for instance, they’re only speaking of certain types of legend, with certain specific characteristics that aren’t going to fit. Other types of legends, such as urban legends, are not discussed at all. They’re a little too close to the Gospel history, and the apologetic goal here is to set up some easily-knocked-down straw men so that Geisler and Turek can claim to have eliminated all the alternatives, leaving the skeptic with no way out.

In this part of Chapter 12, Geisler and Turek begin considering the last of these possibilities, hoping that once they’ve dealt with this one, they’re done.

[W]e know beyond a reasonable doubt that the New Testament writers accurately recorded what they saw. Does this mean that all of the events of the New Testament are true? Not necessarily. The skeptic still has one last out.

The last possible out for the skeptic is that the New Testament writers were deceived. In other words, perhaps the New Testament writers simply were wrong about what they thought they saw.

I’m a skeptic, and I’m not looking for any particular “out.” I’m shaking my head over why Geisler and Turek would suppose that such contrived straw men would suffice to eliminate all the other possibilities besides the one they want. But then again, they’re not really writing for skeptics, they’re writing to assuage the doubts of believers (!) and to reassure them that they’re doing the right thing by trusting what men tell them about Jesus.

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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Unapologetics, XFiles. 3 Comments »

The healing of Bernadette McKenzie

Boy, I leave town for a few days and the comments go nuts! Oh well, that’s a good thing, so bear with me while I try and dig myself out again. It’s a bit dated at this point, but I wanted to use the Bernadette McKenzie story as a practical illustration of the point I was making in my earlier post about miracles. For reference, here is the story, as quoted by Jayman:

A decade ago, at the age of 12, Bernadette McKenzie found that she could no longer stand upright, even after three operations. She suffered from a tethered spinal cord, a rare congenital condition causing constant pain. The nuns at her school in suburban Philadelphia began a series of prayers, seeking the intercession of their deceased founder, Mother Frances de Sales Aviat, whom they regard as a saint. On the fourth day, Bernadette herself knelt by her bed, telling God that if this was to be her life she would accept it. But she wanted to know–a sign. If she were to walk again, she pleaded, let her favorite song, “Forever Young,” play next on the radio. It did. She immediately jumped up and ran downstairs to tell her family. Bernadette didn’t even notice that her physical symptoms had disappeared, something her doctors say is medically inexplicable. Her recovery is currently being evaluated by the Vatican as a possible miracle [it's since been accepted].

Notice, this is what’s considered a real miracle, as defined by the Vatican, so it’s fair to assume that other alleged miracles will have similar traits. And yet, it’s easy to show that this does not constitute an instance of God showing up in real life, nor is there any particular reason to suppose that anything supernatural is involved. Bernadette’s experience is a textbook example of superstition: “explaining” something by ascribing it to a purported cause even though you not only cannot show any actual connection between the two, but cannot even describe what such a connection would consist of if it did exist. And if this is a fair sample, then we are justified in concluding that the others are not actual supernatural manifestations either. If the Vatican had real miracles to offer, would they tarnish the value of the term “miracle” by applying it to a mere superstitious attribution?

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Posted in Superstition, Unapologetics. 34 Comments »

TIA Tuesday: Wrapping up

We come at last to the section of TIA that I have been most looking forward to: the last chapter. Not because it’s deep, or significant, or even because it’s so short, but simply because it is the last. The book ends with one rather pointless sports story, and a tired rant. Speaking of the 2007 Italian victory over the English in the Champions League soccer match between AC Milan and Liverpool, Vox writes:

In addition to seeing the Italians take revenge for their previous defeat with a 2-0 victory, they witnessed Milan’s brilliant attacking midfielder, Kaká, declare his Christian faith with a t-shirt that read “I BELONG TO JESUS”…

The reason Kakà’s prayer resonated so profoundly with Christians and non-Christians alike was because it testified to a higher purpose in life. Very, very few of us will ever know such a moment of complete triumph, almost no one can hope to reach the pinnacle of his profession and know that the eyes of all the world are upon him at the very height of his youth and beauty. In a world full of paparazzi, celebrity magazines, and shallow people releasing sex tapes in a desperate bid for fifteen minutes of fame, it is astounding to see a man reject the mass public adulation he has merited in order to humbly give God the glory.

Yes, that’s right. Humility is the reason he’s flaunting his personal religion, drawing attention to himself apart from his team, and setting himself up for the mass public adulation of millions of Christians who aren’t necessarily even soccer fans, in addition to the acclaim he’s going to collect from sports fans in general.

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Posted in TIA, Unapologetics. 16 Comments »

Sunday Toons: The Emperor’s New Apologetics

In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, a couple of con men exploit people’s vanity by pretending to be tailors whose work is so exquisite that only the truly wise can see it. The emperor, not wanting people to doubt his wisdom, ends up parading around nude in public, and all the courtiers and nobles convince themselves that they, too, can see his fine new clothes, and are therefore not stupid. The charade comes to a humiliating end when a child too young to be vain about his intellect asks, “Mommy, why is that man naked?”

Of course, nobody would try to pull a scam like that today, would they? Well, not unless they were selling apologetics and scholarship instead of trousers and jackets. And speaking of which, here’s an excerpt from JP Holding’s attempt to deal with last week’s Toons.

Dumplin’ just shows how stupid he is when he says that my observation was “trivial and superficial.” Dumbass, it’s the key to Paul’s whole argument! You’re just too stupid to understand the relevance of appeal to the example of an ingroup leader within the context of a collectivist society.

Yes folks, JP has an argument so refined and so sublime that only the truly wise can see it. You can’t find any fault with it. You can’t even point out any shortcomings. If you criticize it at all, you’re just proving that you are not wise. Obviously so, since you cannot perceive the brilliance of JP’s argument, which as we mentioned before is so refined and so sublime that only the truly wise can see it. And I don’t care what dangly bits you happen to see hanging out.

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Posted in Amusements, Sunday Toons, The Gypsy Curse, Unapologetics. 7 Comments »

Comment Promotion: Extraordinary claims and the frequency of divine intervention

Jayman writes:

48% of adult Americans claim to have personally experienced or witnessed a miracle. Thus, the Biblical notion that God intervenes in history is consistent with what we observe in real life. Moreover, at least in the case of those who have personally experienced a miracle, extraordinary evidence has been provided for this intervention.

Let’s run a quick reality check on that statistic, shall we? 48% of the adult US population is on the order of 116 million people. Assuming that each of these people is 116 years of age or younger, and making the pessimistic assumption that none of these people have ever seen more than one miracle during their lifetime, that’s still an average of at least 1 million miracles per year, or more than 2,500 miracles per day. And that’s just the number of miracles occurring in America, not including the believers in Europe, South and Central America, Africa, Asia, or Australia. So if this statistic is a valid indicator of the frequency of miraculous activity, we ought to have a gushing fountain of material to study.

Doesn’t it strike you as a bit odd that, with such an enormous reservoir of miracles to draw from, believers have yet to produce even one single verifiable instance of actual supernatural intervention? Even allowing for the possibility that atheistic scientists might be suspected of ignoring the evidence, 2,500 miracles a year for the past 116 years ought to give ample opportunity for Christians to learn scientific techniques for documenting and verifying genuine phenomena, and then applying those techniques to the task of producing at least one solid and well-documented genuine supernatural miracle.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 39 Comments »

Downtime

I have a company trip coming up this weekend, and so I’m going to be offline for a few days. There’s a post or two in the pipeline already, but if we have any new commenters, I won’t be able to moderate until sometime Tuesday, so please be patient. Also, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to put out an XFiles Friday edition this week, but it will return as scheduled next Friday. Have a good weekend everybody.

 
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Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 11

(Theistic Critiques of Atheism, by William Lane Craig, continued.)

We’re up to the second major node of Dr. Craig’s argument: the claim that there are valid arguments for theism. Here, for your edification, is the first of these arguments. (My response is below the fold.)

Contingency Argument. A simple statement of the argument might run:

1. Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence (either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause).

2. If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God.

3. The universe exists.

4. Therefore the explanation of the existence of the universe is God.

Premiss (1) is a modest version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. It circumvents the typical atheist objections to strong versions of that principle. For (1) merely requires any existing thing to have an explanation of its existence. This premise is compatible with there being brute facts about the world. What it precludes is that there could exist things which just exist inexplicably. This principle seems quite plausible, at least more so than its contradictory. One thinks of Richard Taylor’s illustration of finding a translucent ball while walking in the woods. One would find the claim quite bizarre that the ball just exists inexplicably; and increasing the size of the ball, even until it becomes co-extensive with the cosmos, would do nothing to obviate the need for an explanation of its existence.

Premiss (2) is, in effect, the contrapositive of the typical atheist retort that on the atheistic worldview the universe simply exists as a brute contingent thing. Moreover, (2) seems quite plausible in its own right. For if the universe, by definition, includes all of physical reality, then the cause of the universe must (at least causally prior to the universe’s existence) transcend space and time and therefore cannot be temporal or material. But there are only two kinds of things that could fall under such a description: either an abstract object or else a mind. But abstract objects do not stand in causal relations. Therefore it follows that the explanation of the existence of the universe is an external, transcendent, personal cause—which is one meaning of “God.”

Finally, (3) states the obvious, that there is a universe. It follows that God exists.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 11 Comments »

Comment Promotion: Extraordinary claims and the evidence for God

I want to get back to the second half of William Lane Craig’s “Theistic Critiques of Atheism,” but first I’d like to take a moment to address some comments that have been recently added to my post on “Why Vox Day Fails.” A visitor named Tony posted his concerns about the way the word “extraordinary” is used in the dictum, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof,” arguing that it’s more common to hear people claim that God exists, and therefore it’s not “extraordinary” to claim that He does.

My reply pointed out that the term “extraordinary” refers to the nature of the thing being claimed, not the frequency with which the claim is made. I then pointed out the sort of evidence we ought to see if there really did exist a good and almighty God Who loved us enough to die for us, e.g. He ought to show up in real life. Since He plainly does not do that, the story Christians tell about God is not consistent with the truth we actually observe in the real world.

Tony’s reply is below the fold.

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Posted in Unapologetics. 29 Comments »

Salute!

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you…

President Barak H. Obama.

I just can’t concentrate on my writing today. I knew that Bush would soil his own bedsheets so badly that a Democrat would have to work hard to lose the White House this year. But Mr. Obama seems to be a president beyond anything I dared hope for. The mess Bush has left him is going to be virtually impossible to clean up in only two terms, let alone a mere year, but I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have standing outside the Augean stables with a shovel in his hand than Mr. Obama. Which would be rather a cruel wish if it were not for the fact that the rest of us are IN the stables and up to our necks (or worse).

Best of luck to you, sir. You’ll need it. We all will.

 
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Posted in Current Events, Politics. 2 Comments »

Happy MLK Day

If you don’t already read Pharyngula, drop by and read his post on Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Then reflect, for a minute, that American gays still have a dream, and only a dream, about a nation where they, too, will be free to marry, and to walk down the street without being ambushed and beaten, and/or raped, if they’re women, just for being what they are. We’ve come a long way, and today and tomorrow mark major milestones in American history. But we’ve still got a ways to go.

 
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Posted in Recommended Reading, Society. Comments Off